Phillies positioned to repeat last October's magic

September 23rd, 2023

The Phillies walked off another win on Friday night against the Mets, reducing their magic number to clinch a Wild Card spot in the National League to three. They were behind, got the lead, tied it up, then won the game in the 10th on a single by Alec Bohm, the young third baseman who still has a chance to get to 100 RBIs this season.

While they are still a mile behind the Braves in the NL East, that won’t matter when the tournament starts the week after next and the fun really begins in baseball. Here is what matters for the Phillies, who were two victories away from winning it all last October against the Astros after a dream postseason run:

Nobody -- and that includes the Braves or the Dodgers -- is going to want to play them this October.

The Braves were at 99 wins going into Saturday’s games (though their matchup with the Nats was postponed). The Dodgers still have a chance to get to 100. None of that wins them anything once what looks like another crazy and wide-open postseason officially begins. Everybody saw how the Phillies embraced the pressure and the spotlight of those games a year ago. Everybody knows what a tough out they still are, and how balanced they are on offense and the kind of historic numbers Kyle Schwarber is putting up -- even with a batting average still south of .200.

“Due to our success last fall, our players are confident that they can win in the postseason,” Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball ops for the Phillies, said on Saturday. "Now, we just need to do it."

And by now everybody knows how Bryce Harper is made for the moment in October, because he proved it again a year ago -- especially with his dramatic home run against the Padres that sent the Phillies to the World Series. It is just one more postseason bona fide that speaks to why the Phillies have an absolute right to think they are set to make another run.

Of course, anything can happen in October -- and usually does -- and the Phillies proved that as much as anybody a year ago. First, they swept their NL Wild Card series against the Cardinals. Then, they took out the Braves in four games in the NL Division Series before winning the NL Championship Series in five games against the Padres. So they took a 9-2 record in October into the World Series, where the Series was knotted at two games apiece before the Astros finally managed to put them away.

The Phils showed they know how to do it. There is no reason why they can’t do it again -- even after the way the Braves pulled away from them early in the NL East, even with the way the Dodgers and Brewers have pulled away from the field in their own divisions. Again: There are no sure things once the tournament does start. But it is still a sure thing, as Mets skipper Buck Showalter said the other day, that “No one is really going to want to see the Phillies in the playoffs.”

Do they have pitching issues behind their ace, Zack Wheeler? They do. Show me a team that won’t have pitching issues coming into October. Craig Kimbrel, their closer, is 23-for-27 in save opportunities, but will be the same theme-park ride he has always been come the postseason.

But the Phillies can hit. Can they ever. Schwarber’s numbers remain crazy through Friday night’s victory over the Mets: .198 average, 45 home runs, 100 RBIs, 207 strikeouts, 123 walks and nearly as many runs scored (104) as hits (111). But Schwarber, hitting leadoff, is just the start of the problems for the other teams. Trea Turner, after a dreadful start as a Phillie after signing his huge free-agent contract, now has his batting average up to .265, with 26 homers and 75 RBIs. Nick Castellanos has 28 homers and a career-best 103 RBIs. J.T. Realmuto, who continues to be a total star behind the plate, has 20 home runs. Bohm has 18 homers to go with his 94 RBIs.

And despite batting injury again and missing more than 30 games, Harper would get to 20 homers with the next one he hits, owns an average of .290 and has a higher OPS this season (.882) than he did last season. As always, Harper will treat the day of the Phillies’ first postseason games as if it is his real Opening Day.

In addition to all of this, the Phillies now have a streak of light named Johan Rojas in center field. He is 23 and didn’t arrive in the big leagues until July 5, yet is already 14th in baseball, at all positions, in runs saved. Here is what Brandon Marsh, the Phillies left fielder who plays next to Rojas now, said to Todd Zolecki of about the kid:

“Have you seen a ball drop? He’s a true, pure center fielder. It’s a blessing just to have him on the team and watch him every night. The dude can play. We like to feel invincible out there no matter what. But when I’m playing next to him in left field, I feel super comfortable.”

All you have to do is look at the standings to see how far they are behind the Braves. That is one race. Another one starts for the Phillies as soon as they punch their ticket to the tournament. The Braves will be a big favorite, on merit, once we’re in October. They might not want to see the Phillies again, either.